Expunging Your Record

What is a "Criminal Record"?

You have a criminal record the moment you are charged with summary offense (minor infraction), misdemeanor, or felony, regardless of whether you are convicted.  A criminal record is something the public can see.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why Get a Record Expunged? 

All criminal charges -- even in the absence of a guilty plea or conviction -- remain a matter of public record until a motion for expungement has been filed in the Department of Court Records, Criminal Division, and is granted by an order of court from the Court of Common Pleas.  

There are several reasons why a person may want to expunge his criminal record.  Your future opportunities may hinge on what shows upon a criminal background check.  For example, an Act 33/34 clearance check will produce details of criminal charges that might affect future employment availability, the ability to be bonded or to obtain a gun permit. Likewise, a pre-requisite to renting an apartment,or joining any number of groups, may require a clean background check. According to WNEP 16 News

Carmen Tinson has owned Carmen's Shop in downtown Wilkes-Barre for 15 years. Before her hair salon on Main Street found success, she struggled to find a job because she had a criminal record.

Her story, and many others like it, prompted a new law in Pennsylvania that helps ex-offenders get back into the workforce.

"It took me a long time to be able to find employment or get a job because of things I did in the past when I was younger, and thank God the blessing came where I was able to own my own [business] and not have to work for anyone else," Tinson said.

How Do I Know if I Have a Record in PA?

There are two ways to search.

The first is the most common, and often used by employers (checking up on current and potential employees) and private investigators to ascertain a criminal record in Pennsylvania.  It involves contacting the State Police through the "PATCH" System, described as follows:  "Welcome to the Pennsylvania Access to the Criminal History (PATCH) System. Its purpose is to better enable individuals and the public to obtain criminal history record checks." See https://epatch.state.pa.us/help/Overview.jsp. There is a $10 fee.

The other method is free; it involves searching the court's database for "magisterial docket sheets," to see every charge against an individual in Pennsylvania, county-by-county. https://ujsportal.pacourts.us/DocketSheets/MDJ.aspx.   This, unlike the State Police search (above), does not produce a "certified" result.  Plus, searching the portal can be tricky; user error (filling in fields incorrectly) can you to miss a record that others might see through a state police search.

What is an Expungment?

An expungement is a formal procedure through the courts -- started via petition filed under penalty of perjury -- to eliminate a record from public view.  This right exists pursuant to the Pennsylvania Constitution and Pennsylvania Law, 18 Pa.C.S. § 9122, which provides:  under limited circumstances individuals may obtain permission to remove criminal records from the files of the Department of Court Records, Criminal Division, and other criminal justice agencies.  See also this particular link for the legislative text regarding cleaning a record in PA.  Here is the statutory criteria for when a record expungment can occur: 

§ 9122. Expungement.

(a) Specific proceedings.--Criminal history record information shall be expunged in a specific criminal proceeding when:

(1) no disposition has been received or, upon request for criminal history record information, no disposition has been recorded in the repository within 18 months after the date of arrest and the court of proper jurisdiction certifies to the director of the repository that no disposition is available and no action is pending. Expungement shall not occur until the certification from the court is received and the director of the repository authorizes such expungement;

(2) a court order requires that such nonconviction data be expunged; or

(3) a person 21 years of age or older who has been convicted of a violation of section 6308 (relating to purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of liquor or malt or brewed beverages), which occurred on or after the day the person attained 18 years of age, petitions the court of common pleas in the county where the conviction occurred seeking expungement and the person has satisfied all terms and conditions of the sentence imposed for the violation, including any suspension of operating privileges imposed pursuant to section 6310.4 (relating to restriction of operating privileges). Upon review of the petition, the court shall order the expungement of all criminal history record information and all administrative records of the Department of Transportation relating to said conviction.


What Records Can Be Expunged?  

Generally speaking, any charge that is withdrawn or dismissed can be expunged.  The prior law was, one could not get any summary offense or misdemeanor charge expunged or cleaned unless the charges were dismissed or withdrawn.  No conviction could be expunged. (Note that completion of the ARD program is not a conviction; rather, ARD is an administrative program which, if completed successfully, dismisses your charges.) A few years ago, there was a carve-out for summary offenses (not misdemeanors or felonies), such that even if one pleaded guilty, he could get the conviction for a summary offense expunged if he was arrest free for five years.  The newest law creates another little carve-out, this time for non-violent misdemeanors, only: to allow individuals who have served their punishment and remained free of arrest or prosecution for seven to ten years, for nonviolent misdemeanors, to petition the court for their record to be sealed from public view. Let's look at both of these changes in detail:

Cleaning Summary Convictions.  The passage of Act 134 in 2008 now allows for the expungement of a conviction for a Summary offense so long as the defendant has been arrest-free for five (5) years following the conviction for that offense.  Your lawyer will need to obtain: 

1. A current certified record indicating that the petitioner has not had any arrests, charges or convictions for a minimum of five (5) years since the conviction of the Summary offense for which the expungement is requested. This record check is performed by the Pennsylvania State Police, mentioned above.

2. A certified record indicating that the petitioner has fully paid all fines, costs and restitution for all convictions of record.

Cleaning Non-violent Misdemeanor Convictions.  SB 166 amends Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) is brand new and expands the category of those able to get an expungement, but with restrictions:  SB 166 amends Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) to allow individuals who have served their punishment and remained free of arrest or prosecution for seven to ten years, for nonviolent misdemeanors, to petition the court for their record to be sealed from public view.

Do I Need a Lawyer? 

Most of the time, yes, for two reasons: 

1. Overcoming Opposition to the Petition.  The district attorney has discretion to challenge a petition to expunge one's criminal record. In the majority of cases, no challenge will occur. That said, regarding certain kinds of charges (such as those for sexual assault), the DA may actually scrutinize the petition.  There are other instances where a petition for expungment will be challenged by the DA or court where, for example, you violated your bail conditions regarding charges that were later dismissed.  In the event that your case gets scheduled for a hearing, your lawyer will help ensure that there are no problems in court.  With us your counsel,there is no extra costs to you in terms of legal fees. Our firm handles these cases on a flat fee basis.

2. Crossing all the T's and Dotting I's.  An expungement involves a formal petition presented to the Court verified by you under penalty of perjury.  If there is any technical defect with the petition -- or if any of the required attachments to it (such as a certified copy of your record from the court entering the charges, which a lawyer can help you get) -- then  you petition can be dismissed or delayed, substantially. Here are all the things one must do in Allegheny County to get an expungement, per the Allegheny County Website:

"The motion must be legibly written or typed and must include the following information:

1. Cover Sheet: Name, address, phone number, Offense Tracking Number and/or Criminal Complaint Number.

2. Motion: A brief statement explaining the reasons for seeking an expungement.

3. Certified Copy of Disposition: A copy of the document or documents recording the official outcome of the case. Copies of summary cases are obtained from the office of the Magisterial District Judge that disposed of the case. The Department of Court Records, Criminal Division, Room 220 Allegheny County Courthouse, maintains the files for cases disposed by the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division. Our office charges a fee of ten (10) dollars per case for certified copies. Copies may be obtained either in person or via mail. If you wish to obtain your certified copies by mail, please send a $10 money order to the following address along with your case number:

Allegheny County Department of Court Records, Criminal Division
220 Courthouse
436 Grant Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Attn: Records

4. Proposed Expungement Order: The proposed directive from the Court to expunge records.

5. Verification/Affidavit: A statement attesting that all of the provided information is true and correct.

Filing a Motion of Expungement

1. File with the Department of Court Records, Criminal Division, the original and three (3) copies of the Motion for Expungement with the certified copies of court records attached as an exhibit to the motion. The motion must be accompanied by a filing fee of $100.00, payable by cash, certified check, or money order made payable to the Department of Court Records, Criminal Division.

2. The original and two (2) copies will be kept by the Department of Court Records. The third copy will be returned to the filer as a personal record."

When Is a Lawyer Not Needed? 

There are two narrow instances where you do not need a lawyer to expunge or clean your record.

Automatic Expungement of DUI Charges in Allegheny County with Completion of ARD. The first involves charges in Allegheny County for DUI disposed of via Accelerated Rehabilitated Disposition Program, or ARD.  In that limited, and very narrow instance, once you complete ARD for drunk driving, the court does the expungement for you, meaning, it will expunge your DUI charges once you complete the ARD program. However, this only applies to ARD and drunk driving (DUI) cases. In all other instances, you need to file the petition yourself.

Beaver County Expungements. The other instances involves charges in Beaver County:  there, the court administrator has a pre-printed form that you fill out and then the Court Administrator handles the details of the expungement for you.  That said, outside of those two limited instances, you run a risk by not having counsel because any imperfection in your petition to expunge your record can result in substantial delays and a significant waste of your time. 

Saving Time and Energy  

By talking to a lawyer, you can learn whether the court will likely grant your petition.  In other words, just because you qualify for an expungment, there is no guarantee that a judge will grant the order expunging your record.  If, for example, a judge notes a bail violation prior to the charge at issue being dismissed, he could deny the expungement.  Or, if you are on probation for another offence, the petition could be denied.  A lawyer can help you present your petition in a manner that helps ensure that a favorable order will be granted.  Contact our Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania expungement attorneys today.  We answer a couple questions for free over the phone; speak with a lawyer for legal advice to learn your rights in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Lawrence, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties.

How Long Does it Take? 

We cannot guarantee how long it will take, as a ruling on your petition to expunge your record occurs at the discretion and timetable of the court.  Then, it can take take up to a year for all of the records to cleaned or expunged.  One thing is certain: the sooner we start this process, the sooner it will be finished.

How Do I Know A Record Has Been Expunged? 

We contact the Department of Court Records, Criminal Division, to obtain a certified copy of your expungement order. After the judge grants an expungement, the Department of Court Records, Criminal Division, eliminates all non-conviction data from its physical case files and electronic database and notifies the appropriate criminal justice agencies, including Adult Probation, Behavior Clinic, Bureau of Criminal Investigations, District Attorney, Magisterial District Judge, the Pennsylvania State Police, Allegheny County Jail, Arresting Agency, and Sheriff. Additional agencies may not complete expungement of records for as much as one (1) year after the date of the expungement order.

What Does an Expungement Not Do?

Private Data Bases Used by Law Enforcement.  Getting your record expunged clears it from the public's view, but not from the view of district attorneys.  This is because, the fact of prior charges is relevant to sentencing for subsequent offenses; thus, there exists a database -- accessible by law enforcement -- (not the public) for use to evaluate punishment for subsequent offenses.  Let's say, for example, that you were charged with a DUI but it was dismissed and the record of the charge was expunged, then, you are charged and convicted of a second DUI.  Regarding the second DUI, the DA (and judge) may look at your prior charge for sentencing purposes, even though said charge has been cleaned or purged from view.

Driving Record.  Criminal charges regarding conduct on the roadways of Pennsylvania may still appear on the Department of Transportation data base for a period of time, regarding enforcement of the the point system as it relates to motor vehicle privileges.

Getting Help 

Our expungment lawyers in Pittsburgh regularly work in the area of cleaning or expunging a criminal record in Pennsylvania involving every crime: summary offenses, misdemeanors (assault, bad checks, etc.), felony charges, and more.  Contact a lawyer in Pittsburgh for a free consultation over the phone about this process.  Let us help with your expungement.